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A Hope That Sustains

Heavenly FATHER— We need the touch of Thy Holy Spirit upon us this morning, in this hour we are a needy people. Thou knowest our needs even better than we know them ourselves, and so we pray that by Thy Spirit, Thou wilt search out in each of us whatever that need is. Make it clear to us, and then make clear the remedy from Thy Word by Thy Spirit, so that Thy truth may be applied to each of our hearts, and then bring forth fruit in each of our lives— we pray in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.
Now, turn to I Thessalonians, and I should like to continue our study in this tremendous book in regard to A MEANINGFUL MINISTRY. We saw in chapters 1 and 2 THE MANNER OF A MEANINGFUL MINISTRY: In chapter 1, “The Work God Blesses” and in chapter 2, “The Worker God Uses.” Then in subsequent chapters, we shall see— THE MARKS OF A MEANINGFUL MINISTRY: First, “Fruit That Remains,” then “A Hope that Sustains” (and it is that which we want to deal with this morning); and then finally, in the fifth chapter, beginning in verse 12 to the end of the chapter, “A Life That Attains.”
In our last session together, we emphasized the necessity in a ministry for “Fruit That Remains” in light of the Lord’s return. We indicated that Paul had such fruit at Thessalonica. He is a bit concerned less possibly he did not have that kind of fruit and sent Timothy back to check on the ministry there and was greatly encouraged to find that it was even as he had desired, a ministry that had produced Fruit That Remains. And now in this latter part of the fourth chapter of I Thessalonians, beginning at verse 13, it is teaching here for the Thessalonians and indeed for all of us concerning the Return of Jesus Christ for His own. Paul had already taught the truth of the imminent [that is, the any moment] return of Jesus Christ.
A few weeks ago, I had the dubious privilege of hearing Bishop James Pike speak near Lancaster; and one of the very significant things, among some others that were not so significant that he said, was that it is clear that the early church expected Jesus Christ to return at any moment. [Now he went on to say that they were wrong] But, anyone who studies the documents of the early church including and in particular, I Thessalonians, will be very much aware of the fact that the believers of the early church age expected that Jesus Christ would come at any moment.
Now I Thessalonians is rather unique in that every chapter in this book refers to the coming of the Lord. Notice in chapter 1, we might notice this by way of background and verse 9 and 10, “...how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” In chapter 2 verse 19, “For what is our hope. or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” And then in chapter 3 at the end of this chapter, verse 13, “To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” And then the passage we shall consider this morning in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 the entire passage, dealing with the return of Jesus Christ for His own; and then when we come to the fifth chapter and verse 23, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now actually the coming of Christ is dealt with in a thoroughly extended passage here. It includes not only the fourth chapter, verses 13-18, but also in chapter 5, verses 1-11; and dividing this into two parts [and I shall probably deal with only the first this morning]. In the fourth chapter you have, what I would call the Rapture of the Church, and in the fifth chapter, verses1-11, the Recognition of Conditions. The Rapture of the Church and The Recognition of Conditions prior to the Rapture.
Let me say a word about this term, “the Rapture of the Church. I’m not so sure how many of you are familiar with that term, but I suppose those of you who have sat under Dr. Sueme’s ministry are at least familiar with this. But, if anyone has come in this morning and does not know what this means, you may be in a similar situation as people were in Lancaster a few years ago.
A lady had died and left a will, and in the will she specified that if the Rapture had taken place, before her will was settled, that all of her money was to go to Jewish mission work. Now I’m not so sure where she ever got that sort of distorted idea that she should give her money to Jewish mission work after the Rapture. I think when the Antichrist is in power, there won’t be much in the way of organized Jewish work that will be tax deductible or anything else. But the problem the court faced in Lancaster County was, what was meant by the Rapture of the Church? Now unfortunately they didn’t bother to come to Lancaster School of the Bible. They went to one of the so-called leading preachers in town, and they asked him— What was meant by the Rapture of the Church? And all this appeared in the papers, by the way. He said, “The best thing that I can come up with, was probably it is that thrill that you feel when you think that the Lord might come back.” Now, he had utterly missed the point. The term, the Rapture, as used in regards to the Church does not have to do with “a thrill or feeling.” It comes from the Latin, “rapto,” meaning “to cease”— to cease out, as it were. It has to do with the return of Jesus Christ for His own, coming down in the air, and ceasing them out to be with Himself. Now I’m not sure whatever happened to that money, but I’m quite sure that it never went to Jewish missions, but also they were quite confused about the whole matter. It probably would not have been if they had carefully studied I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” One of the problems that the Thessalonians faced was that having expected Jesus Christ to return at any moment, some of their loved ones in the time past died; and they wondered now what was going to happen, “Here we were expecting Jesus to come back again, and we were ready and waiting for Him to come; but now, some of our loved ones have died— What is going to happen to them?”
Now Paul is very specific in regard to believers who had died before Jesus Christ returned. Now let me emphasize four things from this passage in regard to the Rapture of the Church, Christ coming back for His own: First, the Rapture is Selective in Scope. It applied and referred only to believers. The Rapture has nothing to do with the unsaved, except that it leaves them behind. Notice, as he says here specifically, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren [born again believers], concerning them which are asleep...” Let me emphasize something about this matter of “sleep.” As it is used in the Word of God, “sleep” in the New Testament, when referring to death, refers only to the death of the believer. Let me emphasize too that “sleep” refers to the body. It is not the soul that sleeps. It is the body that sleeps in the dust of the earth and will be raised at the resurrection. It is the sleep of the body of believers that is referred to here, “...that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. Now let me indicate, unfortunately there are people who “have no hope.” People who are outside of Christ “have no hope.” They are the “others”—”even as others”— or as the rest which have no hope. If you turn to Ephesians chapter 2, you’ll find a descriptive statement concerning these people. Ephesians 2 starting at verse 1, “And you hath he quickened [or made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation [or manner of life] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Now these are the “others.”
Three things are said about them here in Ephesians 2: First, they are dead. Spiritually, they are “dead in trespasses and sins.” Second, they are “disobedient”— verse 2. They are “children of disobedience,” and verse 3 they are destruction bent. They are “the children of wrath” heading for destruction from the presence of God. “But,” notice verse 4, “God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”— And notice verse 12, in that previous state “...at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Thus, the unbeliever has “no hope.” He is “dead in trespasses and sins,” he is a “child of disobedience,” he is headed for destruction from the presence of God, delivered to everlasting punishment.
But, there is salvation for the lost. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” And God, in the perfection of His Son, and the perfection in the work at Calvary, has made it possible so that anyone who is without Christ, without God and without hope, can be made nigh [brought nigh] through the blood of Jesus Christ. Notice verse 14, “For He is our peace, Who hath made both one [that is, Jew and Gentile], and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” We ought to be preparing people to die, so that they will be better prepared to live.
It was said of Wesley’s converts, “They die well.” And, I think that so much of our preaching today is aimed only at this life, and we fail to prepare people for the life to come. Consequently, they’re frustrated in this life as well. Then Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers and us too “...that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” For when our loved ones who are in Christ Jesus die— “To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord;” and in their spirits, they are in His presence. Notice verse 14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus [Notice again and very accurately, it is selective in scope— it is only those which sleep in Jesus] will God bring with Him.” Paul labors this point and emphasizes it very well. In I Corinthians chapter 15 beginning in verse 12 he says, “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: Whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished [They’re lost. No hope.]. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable [We need a dimension beyond this life, and verse 20 gives it to us—]. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” We can have the assurance that our loved ones die, and their bodies are laid to rest in the dust of the earth, and their spirits enter into the presence of the Lord— that one day spirit and body will be reunited, and we will be reunited with them in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the basis of what He has done, when He returns, we will be raised to be with them and to be with Him— if... they... are... believers! I believe therefore it is incumbent upon us to be concerned about our friends and loved ones who do not know Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself said [in John 11:26], “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.” There is no place in the Word of God that hope of a second chance is held out, that is, if people can believe on Christ after this life. This is not taught in the Word of God. If people are to believe on Him, they must do it now , while they are living. Thus, I say to anyone who may have come in to this assembly this morning, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, do not wait until you have passed into the next life and say, “Then, I will make my decision for Him.” For, it’s only “whosoever liveth and believeth on me, [that] shall not die.” If you have been born only once, you will die twice, physically and spiritually. If you have been born again, that is, born a second time, you will die only once— and that is physically, but you will live forever in the presence of the Lord. And when Jesus Christ returns, you will be one with all those who go to meet Him in the air.
Secondly, the Rapture of the Church is not only Selective in Scope, it is Specific in Sequence. I Thessalonians chapter 4 continuing in verse 15, “For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [or precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Our God is an orderly God, and He is going to orderly raise the dead. First, the dead will be raised, and....”Then we which are alive and remain [Now notice, there will be people living when Jesus Christ returns for His own, and we] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air...” Someone has suggested that the reason the dead will rise first, is that they have about six feet farther to go. I’m not so sure that this means much of anything when you know something of the altitude of various places on the earth. I don’t think that really that’s a factor to speak of. I think it’s simply an orderly sequence that the Lord Jesus will follow in this matter, and they will be all transformed, and then we transformed with them and meeting the Lord in the air. By the way, this same sequence if found in I Corinthians 15. If you turn to that passage, beginning at verse 51, you will see something of the matter in which this will take place as well as the specific sequence, “Behold, I show you a mystery [Now a “mystery” in the Word of God is not something that you can’t understand. It’s something that had not previously been revealed, but is now made clear. “Behold, I show you a mystery]; We shall not all sleep [that is, some will be dead, but some will be living], but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Now the word “incorruptible” there, refers to the dead. In fact, it says so here in verse 52, “...the dead shall be raised incorruptible...” You see for the dead, corruption has already set in. Now you see the sequence set forth in verse 53, “For this corruptible [that is, the dead in whom corruption has begun to take place] must put on incorruption [and they are mentioned first], and this mortal [Now “mortal,” here as it is used in this passage, refers to those who are subject to death, but yet have not died. That refers to living believers. So, this corruptible must put on incorruption [the dead. This mortal, they are the living which are subject to death] must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” Thus, even here, there is a specific sequence— and God Himself is going to raise the dead, first, “the dead in christ;” and then the “living” will “be changed,” and together we shall “meet the Lord in the air”— even as Paul indicates here in I Thessalonians chapter 4 and verse 16, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Now there is a third thing that is implied in this passage. Since it is selective in scope for believers, and specific in sequence dealing with the dead and the living in orderly fashion, it is also indicated in this passage and elsewhere in the Word of God that The Rapture will be Secretive to the subjects involved— Secretive, only involving the subjects that are dealt with. This distinguishes it from what we might call the “Second Coming” or some have called “The Revelation,” the revealing of Jesus Christ; when as Revelation 1:7 indicates, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him...” That’s not the Rapture. That’s the “Second Coming” to the earth. You see, in the Rapture, Jesus comes in the clouds and we are caught up from the earth “to meet the Lord in the air.”
Now the indication of this is borne out in Hebrews 9:28. Notice verse 27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him [that is, those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God and have this hope, unto them that look for Him] shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation [or deliverance].” Thus, only believers will hear that trumpet sound and be drawn out “to meet the Lord in the air.”
I believe the reason for this, is that only believers are indwelt by the Spirit of God; and the coming of Jesus Christ is very much like the coming of a magnet over metal filings, as it were. You see, it is only because we are indwelt by the Spirit of God that we will be drawn up “to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Finally, fourthly, The Rapture of the Church is Sure and Soon. This is implied in verse 18, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Jesus Christ Himself said in John 14:3, “I go to prepare a place for you, I...will...come...again!” Specifically, surely, He said, “I will come again!”
And, I Corinthians 11:26 [In a few moments, we will be partaking of the Table of the Lord], Paul admonishes the believers that we are to keep doing this— “...till He come.” “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” There’s going to come a time when we’re not going to observe the Lord’s Supper, [as we shall this morning]. This is simply an interim thing. From the time of His first coming, till the time that He comes forth for His own, we observe the Table of the Lord. In Titus 2:13, this hope of the believer is referred to as a blessed hope, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
I believe that as we partake of the Lord’s Table [this morning], we should be looking back to Calvary where Jesus Christ paid the price of our redemption and thanking God for the fact that He took our place there; and then we should be looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ for His own when He will take us to that place that He has prepared for us. Indeed I believe that every day, we ought to be looking back and looking forward. We ought to be looking back and thanking God that our sins were taken away at Calvary and looking forward to that day when we shall be delivered from even the very presence of sin; and we shall be in the presence of our Savior.
Many have placed their hope and confidence in things of this life and things of this world. I’m sure there are people this past week that felt that if we didn’t elect one candidate or another, our hopes were dashed completely. Now I had certain hopes, and I won’t tell you whether they were realized or not, but I’m smiling this morning......but even if that, I said to folks before the election, as well as afterwards, my hope is in the Lord. There is no man who is able to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, except the Son of God Himself.
And I am looking forward to that day when I shall see Him face to face. In the meanwhile, I want to be a good citizen. I want to be a good witness for Him. I want to serve Him faithfully; but it’s not because I am, by my power or by my efforts, am going to change society; but I just hope somehow before He comes, someone may be attracted to Jesus Christ through my testimony for Him and be prepared to meet Him when He comes. Maybe there’s someone here like that this morning. You see, the Table of the Lord is only for the Lord’s people; and we invite you to come and partake with us this morning, if you are the Lord’s. But if you’re not a believer, you will simply add condemnation and judgment to yourself by coming, for you shall eat and drink “unworthily;” but even now where you are sitting, you can receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and be prepared for the Table of the Lord and for His Coming. Shall we pray.

Our FATHER— In these days of uncertainty and difficulty, we need A HOPE THAT SUSTAINS. We thank You that this has been clearly set forth in the Word of God. May we rest our Hope, in Him, Who is our life; and Lord, if there is someone here who does not know Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior, we do ask that even in this very moment, that one shall acknowledge that he is a sinner, and that he needs salvation in Christ, needs deliverance, and that Jesus Christ— by the offering of His body on the cross of Calvary has paid in full the debt of our sin and has provided fully our entrance into heaven, as well as for strength and sustenance for this life. May that individual, by faith, turn to Jesus Christ in this very moment.

Dr. Stuart E. Lease
Immanuel Baptist Church, Richmond, VA

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